Ultrasound at the Zoo

Zoo medicine is quite the paradox. In one way, zoo veterinarians are specialists in that what we do daily; it is very unique and specialized and there are few licensed veterinarians that are employed as full-time clinicians in zoological parks. On the contrary, zoo veterinarians are also the ultimate general practitioners as our patients include everything from invertebrates to great apes and elephants (and all life forms in-between)… and for this wide variety of patients, we attempt to be their pediatrician, surgeon, dermatologist, cardiologist, radiologist, etc. I am fortunate to be the Senior Staff Veterinarian at the Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Kentucky.

In terms of imaging modalities, most zoo hospitals are equipped with plain radiography (film or digital) and have some ultrasound capabilities. A few of the larger zoos in the country have computed tomography (CT) in their on-site hospitals. In Louisville, when one of our patients requires advanced imaging, we make arrangements with local facilities with CT or MRI capabilities.

For ultrasound imaging, we have a portable Sonosite M-Turbo unit with both a curvilinear, 5-2 MHz transducer for primarily transabdominal imaging, and a linear array, 10-5 MHz transducer for primarily transrectal imaging. In addition, we have several donated large rolling Phillips Sonos units with an assortment of probes for both echocardiography and transabdominal imaging. One remains in the Zoo’s Animal Health Center and others are stored and used in animal areas for pregnancy diagnosis, echocardiograms on awake gorillas (through the mesh barrier), or just training/conditioning animals for awake ultrasound exams.

Zoo animals may present unique challenges when ultrasound imaging transcutaneously. In the case of fish and amphibians, imaging through a water bath (without even touching the patient!) can be very effective and noninvasive. The rough scaly skin of some reptiles makes a warm water bath similarly effective as a conductive medium for imaging snakes and lizards. Birds are not often examined via ultrasound because of the extensive respiratory (air sac) system they possess that interferes with the sound waves. For mammals, different species present different challenges. Many mammal species are thickly furred necessitating clipping of hair to establish good contact between the transducer and the skin. For transabdominal imaging, some species are very gassy (hippos, gorillas), which may complicate diagnostic imaging. Large or dangerous mammals that are examined awake via training need to be conditioned to present the body part of interest (chest, abdomen) at the barrier mesh and trust their trainer/keeper to allow contact with the probe. Often the greatest hurdle is habituating the animal to the ultrasound gel! When performing transabdominal imaging in our pregnant African elephant cow, rather than go through gallons of ultrasound gel smeared on her flank to fill in all the cracks and crevices in her thick skin, we run water from a hose just above wherever the transducer is placed.

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As general practitioners, zoo veterinarians have variable amounts of training in ultrasonography. We strive to do the best we can and are constantly learning, but the high variability in our daily tasks makes becoming an expert in ultrasound very difficult. So “it takes a village,” and we will regularly utilize specialists in our community to assist us in providing the best medical care for our patients. If I have a zebra or related species that requires a reproductive ultrasound exam, we will reach out to a local equine veterinarian that can apply their expertise in horses to a related species. Great apes have a high incidence of heart disease so whenever a gorilla or orangutan is anesthetized for an exam, part of the comprehensive care they receive is an echocardiogram by a human sonographer. Female great apes may get attention from our volunteer gynecologic sonographer as part of a reproductive evaluation. If the ultrasound exam is on a sea lion, wolf, or bear, I may contact a veterinary radiologist or veterinary internist competent in ultrasonography to assist.

In summary, ultrasonography represents a valuable, noninvasive, diagnostic tool for the zoo veterinarian.

Have you ever performed an ultrasound examination at a zoo? What was your experience? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community. 

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Zoli Gyimesi, DVM, is the Senior Veterinarian at the Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Kentucky.

From Sonographer to Ultrasound Practitioner: My Career Journey

I have been a sonographer for 18 years, and this year I was awarded Distinguished Sonographer at the 2018 AIUM Annual Convention. I can say without reservation that it is the biggest career honor that I have ever received and a moment that I will never forget. My path to becoming an Ultrasound Practitioner with a faculty appointment in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego has been rewarding, but it has not been easy. To be honest, I wasn’t always sure that I wanted to be a sonographer for more than a few years. I remember asking myself: Is this career as a sonographer enough or should I push myself further and go back to medical school? I have an incredible husband (who is also a sonographer) and he would have supported any choice I made, but ultimately – I decided not to pursue medical school. Even though I made that choice, I also told myself that there was nothing stopping me from learning as much as I could—my degree would not limit my potential and would not be what defines me.tantonheadshotblog

Since then, I have been studying the fetal heart A LOT. I enjoy all aspects of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) ultrasound, but the heart has always been an area of fascination for me. I love that it is both dynamic and complex, and, in my opinion, the most challenging aspect of fetal ultrasound. I have taken every opportunity to learn as much as I can from the incredible mentors that I have had the privilege of working with over the years. To this day, I am still learning, and I am amazed at all of the details we can see in these tiny little hearts! I eventually got the opportunity to cross train in pediatric echo and I jumped at that chance as well. I really enjoy being a part of a team of providers that can help the families affected by congenital heart disease.

I am, or I guess I should say I used to be, terrified of public speaking. I am proud of myself for overcoming this fear. Being in an academic center, I was used to teaching one on one, but it was about 8 years ago when I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone by lecturing to larger groups in the San Diego community. Putting together lectures can be time-consuming, difficult, and even stressful. I have spent many hours on weekends and evenings working on them, but I have also learned so much in the process. I started by speaking at local societies and hospitals, but over the years I have progressed and now I am proud to be invited to lecture at AIUM, SMFM, and other CME events around the country. Overcoming my fear of public speaking has been a huge stepping stone in my career and I love representing the sonographer voice on a larger platform.

So, how did I become a Practitioner with a faculty appointment?

I had a vision of how an Ultrasound Practitioner could function in our department. After all, by that point in my career, I was a seasoned MFM sonographer with 10 years of experience and I was still incredibly driven to learn and grow. I was keen to expand my skill set to function as a mid-level provider. Ultrasound Practitioner is not a new concept; SDMS had proposed a working model for an Ultrasound Practitioner in 2001. Dr. Beryl Benacerraf, among others, had already been successfully using an Ultrasound Practitioner for years. But working in a large academic center – my vision took years to bring to reality. I knew it would never happen if I didn’t continue to push for it. Along the way, I struggled, I questioned myself, I got overwhelmed, but I never gave up. I also had the support of some key physicians who believed in me. Their support was crucial to my eventual success.

I have now been an Ultrasound Practitioner for 6 years and as our department has grown to 8 ultrasound rooms, my role has expanded. Some of my responsibilities include: checking sonographers’ cases for quality and completeness, directing sonographers to get more images, obtaining images on difficult or complex cases, deeming the exam complete, writing preliminary reports, and discussing routine sonographic findings with patients. This working model frees up the physicians to spend more time with patients with abnormal findings and also allows the sonographers to keep moving with their schedules while ensuring quality patient care. Of course, this is only a snapshot of my day to day work, I still perform many of the fetal echocardiograms. I love to scan and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My path to becoming a faculty member in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego was similar to my journey to becoming an Ultrasound Practitioner: it took time, lecturing nationally as well as teaching locally, coauthoring research papers and once again, having mentors who supported my appointment.

So, when people ask me about my success, I tell them it is because of hard work, persistence, believing in myself, and having mentors who believe in me too. My advice to sonographers is to know how important your role is; you are not “just a sonographer.” You should always keep learning, take pride in your work, and don’t be intimidated by the hierarchy of medicine. Our voice is crucial to the care of our patients, and that is really what matters.

Benacerraf BR, Bromley BS, Shipp TD, et al. The making of an advanced practice sonographer. J. Ultrasound Med 2003; 22:865–867.

Lockhart ME, Robbin ML, Berland LL, Smith JK, Canon CL, Stanley RJ. The sonographic practitioner: piece to the radiologist shortage puzzle. J Ultrasound in Med 2003; 22:861–864.

Bude RO, Fatchett AS, Lechtanski RT. The Use of Additionally Trained Sonographers as Ultrasound Practitioners. J Ultrasound Med 2006; 25:321–327

Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Ultrasound Practitioner master’s degree curriculum and questionnaire: response by the SDMS membership. J Diagn Med Sonography 2001; 17:154–161.

How has ultrasound shaped your career? If you are an Ultrasound Practitioner, how did you get there? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community. 

Connect

Tracy Anton, BS, RDMS, RDCS, FAIUM, is an Ultrasound Practitioner with a faculty appointment in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at University of California, San Diego.

Determining Umbilical Cord Blood Flow

Umbilical cord blood flow is among the most highly desired parameters for monitoring fetal well-being. This is because cord blood flow directly reflects placental volume flow, which is considered to be as important in the fetus as cardiac output and lung perfusion are in adults.1 Yet, presently employed noninvasive methods, such as umbilical artery Doppler waveform analyses, use surrogate flow evaluation parameters, such as systolic/diastolic ratios, which do not directly reflect placental-fetal blood flow.2,3 Volume flow estimation overcomes this by measuring true flow, and it has been shown that volume flow changes in the umbilical vein occur before umbilical artery flow indices become abnormal.4

Yet, the present volume flow measurement method has severe problems limiting its utility. These include technical difficulties in flow measurement in umbilical cords and faulty assumptions employed in the measurement. The present method using spectral Doppler is

                 Q = V × A                    (1),

where Q is volume flow, V is the mean velocity through the Doppler sample volume, and A is the cross-sectional area of the vessel of interest. This formula assumes that the 2D flow profile is cylindrically symmetric with a circular cross-section, and the line of the Doppler sampling cuts perfectly through the center of the sampled vessel. The velocity estimates require angle correction, and if the vessel is tortuous, as in umbilical cords, the sampling position placement and angle correction are hard to perform. Multiple investigators have warned that small errors in volume flow components can result in large errors in the calculation of volume flow.5-7

A new, easy-to-perform volume flow method overcomes almost all of the limitations of the standard technique. The new method is angle independent, flow profile independent, and vessel geometry independent. It works as follows:

Volume flow is defined as the total flux across any surface, S, intersecting the vessel. This is written as

Eq2

where Q is again volume flow, V is the local velocity through each area element dA, and “” is the dot product which projects the local velocity V onto the normal vector for each area element. This is known as Gauss’s theorem. The intersecting surface, known as the “C” surface, is very simple to obtain using 3D ultrasound (Figure8). In order to validate this method, we obtained an AIUM EER-funded research grant.

Fig

Figure: (A) Four-panel view of a single 3D color flow acquisition of the umbilical cord. The four views are as follows: upper-left is axial-lateral, upper-right is axial-elevational, bottom-left is elevational-lateral (ie, the c-surface), and bottom-right is a rendered 3D reconstruction. Arteries are shown in blue and the vein is shown in red. The schematic in (B) illustrates the orientation of the probe and the corresponding c-surface in the elevational-lateral imaging plane. The vessel colors in (B) match the directionality in (A). The entire umbilical cord passes through the c-surface but only the cross-sections of the umbilical arteries and umbilical vein are illustrated in (B). The two arteries are separated in power Doppler (not shown). (Printed with permission from Pinter et al. J Ultrasound Med. 2012;31(12):1927-34. © 2016 by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine)

We had 2 specific aims: 1) Test the reproducibility of the volume flow measurement, and 2) evaluate the relationship of volume flow to clinical outcome in a high-risk patient population.

In the first aim, we performed studies on 35 subjects between the gestational ages of 22–37 weeks, 26 high risk and 9 normal.9 We attempted to measure umbilical cord blood flow at 3 sites in the cord in each subject, and we averaged 28.3 ± 3.3 (mean ± standard deviation) samples per site. We used a GE LOGIQ E9 ultrasound system with a 2.0–8.0 MHz bandwidth convex array transducer to acquire multiple volume 3D color and power mode data sets. Since we were measuring mean blood flow, we assessed variability using relative standard error (standard error /mean) (RSE). The average RSE for blood flow at each cord position was ±5.6% while the average RSE among the measurements in each subject was ±12.1%.

For the second aim, we compared the volume flow measurements in 5 subjects that developed preeclampsia with the 9 normal subjects. Even with these small numbers, we detected a significant difference between the mean depth-corrected, weight-normalized umbilical vein blood volume flows in the two groups (P = .035). Further, blood flow abnormalities were detected either at the same time or preceded the hypertensive disorder in 4 of the 5 subjects. This is consistent with our prior publication where blood flow changes preceded the onset of pre-eclamptic symptoms in a study subject.8

With the introduction of 2D array transducers, umbilical cord volume flow estimates can be performed in seconds and given the valuable information provided by this method, umbilical cord volume flow will hopefully become a standard component of fetal examinations.

References:

  1. Tchirikov M, Rybadowski C, Huneke B, Schoder V, Schroder HJ. Umbilical vein blood volume flow rate and umbilical artery pulsatility as ‘venous-arterial index’ in the prediction of neonatal compromise. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2002;20:580-5.
  2. Newnham JP, Patterson LL, James IR, Diepeveen DA, Reid SE. An evaluation of the efficacy of Doppler flow velocity waveform analysis as a screening test in pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1990;162:403-10.
  3. Acharya G, Wilsgaard T, Bernsten GKR, Maltau JM, Kiserud T. Doppler-derived umbilical artery absolute velocities and their relationship to fetoplacental volume blood flow: a longitudinal study. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2005;25:444-53.
  4. Rigano S, Bozzo M, Ferrazzi E, Bellotti M, Battaglia FC, Galan HL. Early and persistent reduction in umbilical vein blood flow in the growth-restricted fetus: a longitudinal study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2001;185:834-8.
  5. Evans DH. On the measurement of the mean velocity of blood flow over the cardiac cycle using Doppler ultrasound. Ultrasound Med Biol. 1985;11(5):735-41.
  6. Gill R. Measurement of blood flow by ultrasound: accuracy and sources of error. Ultrasound Med Biol. 1985;11:625-41.
  7. Lees C, Albaiges G, Deane C, Parra M, Nicolaides KH. Assessment of umbilical arterial and venous flow using color Doppler. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 1999;14:250-5.
  8. Pinter SZ, Rubin JM, Kripfgans OD, Treadwell MC, Romero VC, Richards MS, Zhang M, Hall AL, Fowlkes JB. Three-dimensional sonographic measurement of blood volume flow in the umbilical cord. J Ultrasound Med. 2012;31(12):1927-34.
  9. Pinter SZ, Kripfgans OD, Treadwell MC, Kneitel AW, Fowlkes JB, Rubin JM. Evaluation of umbilical vein blood volume flow in preeclampsia by angle-independent 3D sonography [published online ahead of print December 15, 2017]. J Ultrasound Med. doi:10.1002/jum.14507.

How do you determine umbilical cord blood flow? What problems have you encountered using the traditional method? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Jonathan Rubin, MD, PhD, FAIUM, is Professor Emeritus of Radiology at University of Michigan.

Dating Pearls

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) dating trumps all other sonographic dating. If the dating is off with ART, think about asking if the embryo was put in the uterus at 5 days, and not zero days, as that is how it is often calculated. This can be important if the embryo is larger than expected, as ART pregnancies have an increased incidence of Beckwith Weidman Syndrome, which is an overgrowth syndrome. If the embryo is smaller than expected, then the embryo should be followed more closely for possible congenital or chromosomal anomalies.

If the pregnancy is not ART, dating should be based on the 2014 ACOG/AIUM Committee Recommendations (Methods for Estimating the Due Date. Committee Opinion No, 700. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2017; 129:e150–154).

Measurement of the embryo or fetus in the first trimester is the most accurate method to determine gestational age. In the first trimester, the 2014 Recommendations state that if the pregnancy is less than 8 weeks 6 days, the embryo should be within 5 days of LMP (last menstrual period) and otherwise should be re-dated using ultrasound dates of the crown rump length. One mistake often made at this time is to include the gestational sac size in dating; the crown rump length is more accurate than the sac size and thus it should not be averaged into the estimated gestational age.

Crown rump length growth curves have been updated by Pexsters et al (Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol 2010; 35:650–655) using 4387 exams, whereas Hadlocks curves (Hadlock et al Radiology 1992; 182:501–505) were only based on 416 exams. These have some significant discrepancies in the 5–7 weeks gestational age range so we recommend using the Pexsters curves.

Crown Lump Length

From 9 weeks to 16 weeks 6 days, the 2014 Recommendations suggest that the dating should be within 7 days and be re-dated if greater than “7-day” discrepancy.

From 16 weeks to 21 weeks 6 days, the 2014 Recommendations suggest that the dating should be within 10 days and be re-dated if greater than “10-day” discrepancy.

From 22 weeks to 27 weeks 6 days, the 2014 Recommendations suggest that the dating should be within 14 days and be re-dated if greater than “14-day” discrepancy.

From 28 weeks and beyond, the 2014 Recommendations suggest that the dating should be within 21 days and be re-dated if greater than “21-day” discrepancy.

We should not re-date a pregnancy in the second or third trimester if there are good ultrasound dates in the first trimester. If the patient gives “excellent dates” based on history (eg keeping a temperature chart, knowing date of conception based on specific dates of being with partner) and there is a greater than expected discrepancy of dates, then a follow-up sonogram should be recommended in 2–4 weeks, depending on the time of gestation (4 weeks in the second trimester and 2 weeks in the third trimester) so that appropriate growth can be assessed.

Serial growth is important in assessing dating. A fetus that grows 4 weeks in a 4-week period is likely dated appropriately. When the fetus grows more than 4 weeks in a 4-week period then accelerated growth should be reported, suggesting either an LGA (large for gestational age) or macrosomic fetus. History of prior pregnancies can be particularly helpful in these cases. Placement of the calipers at the outer edge of the subcutaneous tissue is particularly important in these cases. We often require 3 measurements, which are averaged to assess LGA/macrosomic fetuses.

When fetuses grow less than 4 weeks in a 4-week period then SGA (small for gestational age) or IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction) are suspected. Additional studies for well-being should be performed, such as umbilical artery Doppler, middle cerebral artery Doppler, maximum vertical pocket of amniotic fluid, biophysical profile, cerebroplacental ratio (CPR), or antenatal testing.

Do you have any tips on sonographic dating? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Dolores H. Pretorius, MD, is a Professor of Radiology at University of California, San Diego, and Director of Imaging at UC San Diego Maternal-Fetal Care and Genetics, an AIUM-accredited practice.

Andrew D. Hull, MD, is a Professor of Clinical Reproductive Medicine at University of California, San Diego, and Director of UC San Diego Maternal-Fetal Care and Genetics, an AIUM-accredited practice.

Do You Allow Patients to Video?

An expecting new mother comes into your practice for a routine ultrasound exam. During the exam she pulls out her cell phone to capture a few photos and maybe a short video. What do you do?

As cell phone use has become ubiquitous, the AIUM has been receiving more and more calls and messages asking about cell phone use policies during obstetric exams. Practices are searching for guidance on how to set such a policy and what should be included.

To get a sense of how practices are dealing with this issue, last month, the AIUM sent a short survey to 1,652 individuals in 1,138 AIUM OB-accredited practices. Nearly 22% of recipients completed the survey.

video

Allow patients to record exams?

According to the results, 88% said their practice does not allow videotaping during OB exams. However, only 51% said their practice has a written policy that supports this.

Why Have a Policy?
Those practices that forbid or restrict videotaping do so for a number of reasons. Some of the most commonly cited reasons include:

policy

Written policy in place?

  • It is distracting. Several respondents mentioned that having people videotaping is very distracting to the sonographers and physicians who are trying to conduct a medical examination. To help these individuals focus on medical care, videotaping is not allowed.
  • Legality. In order to protect the patient’s medical information and staff identity, practices do not allow videotaping.
  • Findings. When a sonographer or physician begins an examination, they do not know what they might find. To avoid the widespread sharing of unread studies or potentially personal information or decisions, practices ask that patients keep their phones off.

Enforcement
While nearly half of AIUM-accredited practices stated they do not have a written policy, there are several ways in which patients are told or asked to refrain from videotaping. Those methods include:

  • Information in new patient packages
  • Signs posted throughout the practice: waiting rooms, exam rooms, on the ultrasound machines
  • Verbal statements from sonographers and physicians

Even using these methods, survey respondents acknowledge that enforcement is difficult because people still pull out their phones and hit record. Some practices do empower their employees by allowing them to stop the exam should a visitor not comply with the videotaping rules.

When Is It OK?
Of those practices that allow videotaping, most have rules about when and how it is allowed.

  • Some practices allow short videos showing certain anatomy.
  • Others state that patients can’t videotape staff or require that staff stay silent when patients are videotaping.
  • In some practices, the sonographers and physicians use their discretion to control when and for how long videotaping can occur.
  • Others allow unlimited videotaping after the diagnostic portion of the exam.
  • Some practices will allow FaceTime (non-permanent) video during the exam but prohibit permanent videotaping.
  • And still others are completely open and allow the entire exam to be videotaped.

Even among those practices that forbid videotaping, some may be allowed. The typical exceptions are for deployed parents or foreign parents of a surrogate. Many practices mentioned that they try to avoid the videotaping issue altogether by stating their policy and then following that by telling the patient they will supply some pictures or short video clips.

What can you do?
If your practice is looking to set a policy or even seeking resources to support your policy, here are some items that might help.

  • Legal Counsel—If you are concerned about the legal aspect of allowing videotaping, or you are looking to set an official policy, seek legal advice and counsel.
  • AIUM’s Keepsake Imaging Official Statement—This resource may help you in framing your policy, and it serves as a great document to share with patients.
  • HIPAA—Several practices mentioned HIPAA compliance in their policies or statements as a reason for not allowing the use of videotaping during exams.
  • Consent Law—In setting your policy, you may have support through your state’s consent laws.

In most cases, obstetric patients are not videotaping with ill intent. But as physicians and sonographers, there are legitimate and medical reasons to consider whether your practice should institute a policy on the use of videotaping equipment. While it can be a challenge to balance legal liability, best practice guidelines, and customer service, working with your staff, your legal counsel, and your customers, you can create a policy that works for all.

Obstetric Ultrasound: Tips for Sharing Outcomes With Your Patient

“Are you comfortable? Am I pressing too hard?” I ask my patient these questions to assuage my own concerns and delay the inevitable as I study the ultrasound image of her 20-week-old fetus. Although she says she’s fine, my patient appears expectant and anxious as she, too, searches the black and white image of her unborn child. I wonder, of course, if she sees what I see—a cleft lip and palate.

If you’ve conducted ultrasounds for routine evaluation of your obstetric patients, you know that patients and their partners typically experience a mix of emotions, namely joy and worry, as they await results. You know, too, that delivering positive results is a pleasure as you share in your patient’s happiness and relief. In all likelihood, you also are relieved at escaping the discomfort of delivering bad news to your patient.

Dr and patient

Delivering Abnormal Ultrasound Results

Telling your patient about any pregnancy or fetal abnormality, however common or rare, can be devastating for her, her husband/partner, and her family. After all, every patient wants to know her pregnancy is progressing as expected and her fetus is developing normally. It also can be difficult for you to tell your patient there is a problem. But as a practitioner, you must be prepared to deliver all results, good and bad, to your patients.

A key to delivering abnormal results to your patient includes knowing and using phrases that clearly and honestly apprise your patient of the results without stirring alarm.

Sound easy? It’s not! Even the most seasoned practitioners suggest they never become comfortable giving patients abnormal results.

When results aren’t cause for alarm, patients, especially those in a first pregnancy, still can be highly sensitive to even the slightest aberration. Furthermore, the situation can become complex given varied models for delivering care. For example, when a primary obstetrician sends a patient for scanning at an antenatal testing unit that a maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist oversees, the question is whether the MFM or primary obstetrician should deliver the results. In some cases, patients have scans in emergency departments. What then? Does the radiologist, emergency physician, or primary obstetrician deliver the results?

As an MFM specialist in an antenatal testing unit, I follow my center’s policy to immediately inform patients about their ultrasound results, whatever the outcome. With empirical knowledge to support them, practitioners in my unit know that the longer patients await results, the more likely they are to ruminate, worry, and, in some cases, develop unfounded concerns about their ultrasound results.

With focus on the shared humanity between physician and patient, we treat each patient with careful consideration for her dignity and the compassion we would want for ourselves and our family members.

Once you have told your patient her results, get in touch with her primary obstetrician. In addition to giving the primary obstetrician an opportunity to prepare for a discussion with her/his patient, this approach is integral to delivering high-quality, comprehensive, and continued care.

Follow these tips for delivering abnormal results to your patient:

  • Write down phrases you are comfortable using and practice them with a simulated patient (a family member or friend)
  • Consider how you would feel if you were in the same situation
  • When face to face with your patient, take a moment to gather your thoughts before speaking if necessary
  • Use a calm voice
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Look at your patient when talking to her; if her husband/partner is in the exam room, also look at him/her
  • Be straightforward and honest without creating alarm
  • Be sensitive to emotional ques from your patient to pace discussion appropriately. A sobbing patient is unlikely to hear what you’re saying, so wait patiently until she’s ready to listen
  • Ask your patient if she has questions; ask her husband/partner if he/she has questions
  • Answer as many questions as you can; if the patient asks a question you cannot answer on the spot, tell her you will get an answer within the next day
  • Reassure your patient of potential solutions for the situation without making promises
  • Recommend educational material that can help your patient better understand the problem
  • If the problem is genetic in origin, explain the value of genetic counseling before any future pregnancies
  • Take extra time to address your patient’s concerns if necessary
  • Ask your patient if she would like a referral for a counselor so that she can work through feelings about the results
  • Follow up with your patient the next day with a phone call

Telling Your Patient About Ultrasound Results: Practice and Prepare!

All fetal abnormalities on ultrasound, even the most insignificant, are understandably upsetting for parents to be. But being prepared before you break the news can help you and your patients feel more comfortable discussing the situation, including potential outcomes and solutions.

GuptaOne of the privileges of practicing obstetrics in the 2000s is that many of us deliver good news more often than bad news. But this also means that being adept at delivering abnormal ultrasound results requires practice outside as well as inside the office.

How do you deliver bad news to a patient? When do you provide counseling? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Vivek Gupta, MD, is a clinical instructor and fellow in maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wisconsin.